Buzzy Lee's Breezy Blues
Tell me why you wanted to start this new solo project as Buzzy Lee. Was it an intuition thing or have you been planning this for a while?
Actually, yes, it was an intuition thing. I had been writing all these songs and not using them for my band because they felt more personal. I wasn't ready to dive into them, but at the same time I was. I kind of was having a talk with Nicolas Jaar on the phone about life and he suggested that I come to New York for just like two weeks and make music and turn these songs into something. So I went for two weeks like a year and a half ago, and we started this project.
What would you say is the main separation between your band Wardell and Buzzy Lee?
Well, I say “tits” in one of my songs, so I don't think I would say that with my brother. Honestly, though, it's very personal and there's a lot of room texturally for my voice. For a while I thought it was more impressive to sing out and belt and do scales like it was a talent show, playing live or recording. My brother Theo was the one who was like, “Sing a bit softer, there's more vulnerability in your voice when you sing softer instead of trying to impress people.” So I sort of took that and brought that into this project, and I did feel that Theo was right. I felt like when I was stripped down a bit more and fighting for the notes after a long day of crying with Nico it allowed for more vulnerability. This project is just way more vulnerable lyrically and performatively.
Why the name Buzzy Lee?
Well, Buzzy is a long inside joke that I won't go into right now. But Lee is my grandma's name. She passed away a year ago and was such a big part of me that I took her name. It was actually Lee Lee, but I felt like Buzzy Lee Lee was a bit strange.
That could be cool.
It's actually kind of tight. I should have done that.
Listening to the EP, I noticed that a lot of your lyrics are very blunt yet still maintain a certain elegance. How do you approach your lyrics?
I put them off for a year and then cry and have a panic attack and then I write them down. No, but it's different with each song on the EP. For one of the songs, I had a set of lyrics I was about to record, and we just looped the piano and I rewrote the lyrics. We looped the piano for such a long time, it felt like 4 hours but was probably 30 minutes. And I just rewrote a lot of the lines because we would look at each line and be like, “What does that actually mean? Can we go a bit deeper?" Nico was pushing me, but I would push myself and ask myself, “Do I just like that line because it sounds good, or does it actually mean something to me?" So it was a lot of writing down lyrics and reworking them and really analyzing if they had a place in the song.
What artists are you currently obsessed with?
Do you mind if I look at my phone?
For sure. I would have to do the same thing.
We're in such a "shuffle generation," and especially with Spotify, I do the Discover Weekly thing every Monday and am constantly being fed with new artists. Okay, here we go. Ya know, this is funny. I went back to a playlist I made in 2014 with Miguel’s "Adorn" and there was this song called “Bitches Be Like” with Rico Love. These really fun songs from 2014. "Adorn" is such a good song. It's just really good. I'm listening to Cardi B right now, obviously. JPEG Mafia, this girl Courtney Marie Andrews and also Kate Bush, Kasey Musgraves. I love Wings, but I'll be honest, I had never listened to them until a month ago. Have you listened to Wings?
No, who are they?
It's Paul McCartney's band. I'm listening to a lot of different things and rediscovering songs not just from, like, 2003 but also from 2015. Three years can really make a difference.
Do you pull inspiration from any unexpected places?
Yeah, there's a Thin Lizzy reference. One of the lyrics is, "Little girl in bloom," and it's a Thin Lizzy song that my former boyfriend had shown me. And then there are a lot of hidden references, but that's one lyric that I put into a song.
Did you grow up playing music? Has music always been at the forefront for you?
Yeah, I've always just really dreamt of being a musician. I always sang in the bathtub. I made my parents turn on the video camera while I sang and performed for them. Monster child. I had stage fright until my Bat Mitzvah when I really just blossomed. It was because my parents didn't really know that I sang. And I had been working with a cantor weekly on my Haftorah. I don't know why I felt so comfortable. Maybe because I didn't think I had a really good voice so I didn't care and was just focusing on my Hebrew singing. And it was like a big coming out party for this little 13 year old singing these songs and putting all this vibrato into them. And I got a little carried away with a few of them. And by the end my parents were like, “We had no idea you sang,” and that was kind of when I got more confident about singing. But I was still completely terrified about singing on stage. So I did a musical in high school, but of course in the only musical I did my only singing part was a rap, so I didnt even sing.
Wow, so your bat mitzvah was your debut?
That was my big debut! Thank you Cantor Kliegman!
The instrumentation on Facepaint is a bit dazed and fuzzy in a really beautiful way. Could you tell me a little bit about the recording process and production?
I think the first song we started with was "On The Radio." We started on the piano and I just played through it. We wanted to keep all of these songs really simple but really atmospheric and sort of as a path for the vocals to come through. This is such a weird reference, but when we first listened back to "On The Radio," I thought of the Disney California Adventure ride Soarin' Over California. It's so weird and specific that that kept popping into my mind. I have no idea why, and I feel like I need to ride it again to figure out why. Have you ever been on that ride?
I have not.
To me, it's the most beautiful ride in the entire world. I almost wanna go back on it just for inspiration for another song. What are those chairs called that lift and move and make it feel like you're flying? Simulators? Specifically when you're flying over the orange groves, I just think that production wise it would be a real feat to have every song feel like you're soaring over California's orange grove section. Weirdest reference.
Facepaint is available now.